The Guarantors

The French Revolution, like the American Revolution, advanced an idea that was then revolutionary: people have basic rights.

Police officers Ahmed Merabet and Xavier Jugelé died protecting these rights.

 

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“He was very proud of the name Ahmed Merabet, proud to represent the police and of defending the values of the Republic – liberty, equality, fraternity.”

Officer Merabet, a Muslim, was killed by terrorists who attacked a satirical newspaper known for mocking Islam.

Officer Jugelé, a gay man, was killed guarding the cultural bureau of Turkey, a Muslim country.

 

Continue reading “The Guarantors”

The Vexillologist

 

 

Before Whitney Smith, the study of flags didn’t have a name. So he invented the word vexillology. He was 18 years old.

According to his New York Times obituary, this scholar not only increased our knowledge of flags; he added to them:

Mr. Smith came up with a prototype, a golden arrowlike triangle with an overlapping red triangle against a green ground. He then asked his mother to sew it and sent it in. It was adopted, with slight modifications. Mr. Smith did not find out for six years, when Guyana gained formal independence.

Flag of Guyana.svg

 

There have been over two dozen versions  of the Stars and Stripes since independence. Which was Mr. Smith’s favorite? The Betsy Ross flag, because “a ring of stars better symbolizes our harmony in diversity.”

 

 

The Laugher

Junko Tabei was the first woman to climb Mount Everest, and the first woman to climb the tallest mountain on each continent.

 

Her obituary in the Christian Science Monitor observes:

The early climbing achievements of Tabei, a married mother of two, were especially noteworthy at a time when most women were expected to stay home and perform domestic duties.

They are all the more noteworthy considering she was once labeled a “weak child.”

She had the last laugh, though: even after a cancer diagnosis in her seventies, she continued to climb, working toward her goal of scaling the highest peak in every country in the world.

 

“Mount Fuji & Sakura,” Hideo

 

There is a poetic device in Japanese haiku poetry called a kigo, a word or phrase associated with a season. Fittingly,  Tabei’s favorite, expressing spring, was “the mountain laughs.”

 

 

Bob Kalsu

 

 

In 1968, Bob Kalsu was the Buffalo Bills’ rookie of the year. The next year he was an artillery officer in Vietnam. As this Sports Illustrated profile recounts:

Word had gotten around the firebase that he had played for the Bills, but he would shrug off any mention of it. “Yeah, I play football,” he would say. What he talked about – incessantly – was his young family back home.

Grantland‘s “The Death of Bob Kalsu” describes the toll of his loss on that family:

For almost 30 years, Bob Jr. felt partially responsible for his father’s death. As the story went, Bob Kalsu was killed while running out to meet a helicopter that might be bringing the news of his son’s impending birth.

It took this NFL documentary to relieve Kalsu’s son of that burden.

 

The Lover

 

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Mr. Barnes was known for his trademark “I love you” greetings which he bestowed on hundreds of commuters every morning from about 5am until 10am at the Crow Lane Roundabout.

 

There are a lot of rotaries in and around Boston. I drive through three each commute. Of the many interpersonal exchanges I’ve witnessed, the predominating theme is not love.

Johnny Barnes’s obituary in Bermuda’s Royal Gazette is a reminder that the unpleasantness we accept as normal could be otherwise.

The Economist eulogized Mr. Barnes with a parable, “Clothed with Happiness.”

This short film shows Mr. Barnes in action:

 

 

PS Boston drivers: note how Mr. Barnes extended all digits when he waved.

 

The Inventor

 

Who’s the most brilliant scientist to have immigrated to America?

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Is that your final answer?

Did you consider the inventor of washable crayons?

Colin Snedeker came to the United States as a youth. After inventing a non-staining shoe polish, he went to work for the maker of Crayola Crayons. As his obituary in the Wichita Eagle tells it:

[H]e had run out of ideas as to what to make next… He went into the company’s complaint department, where they had all kinds of mail from people complaining about what was wrong.

Thus inspiration struck.

crayons

 

“He had that kind of mind that could just figure things out,” his sister said. Snedeker is just one of the brilliant minds America has been blessed with from abroad: since 2000, 40% of Americans who won Nobel Prizes in chemistry, medicine, and physics have been immigrants.

Mr. Snedeker may not have been a Nobel Prize winner. He is, however, (yet) another immigrant who has improved our lives.

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